The Junior Doctor's strike in England: what actually is it and why you should even care?

What an absolute Jeremy Hunt

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This morning, junior doctors made history by walking out of routine and emergency care from 8am to 5pm across England, for the first all-out doctors' strike since the NHS launched way back in 1948. In case you hadn't already heard, they're pretty pissed off about some things.

It's the doctors' 5th protest walkout since January of this year but also their biggest by FAR, affecting all areas of medical care across A&E, maternity and intensive care with a "full withdrawal of labour". 

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But why are all these doctors, who usually devote their working life to caring for and saving people, taking such drastic action? LET'S FIND OUT, because it's really important and you need to know about it, basically.

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What is a junior doctor?

So first things first. A junior doctor is anyone below a consultant or a GP, meaning most doctors are considered 'junior' into their early to mid-30s, after five years at medical school and 5-10 years experience on the wards. The term 'junior' makes the job sound MUCH less intense and important than it really is.

What kicked this all off?

Back in August, The British Medical Association junior doctors' committee announced that they'd be withdrawing from talks with the government over proposals for new contracts, as the two were unable to reach an agreement on the future of the job.

Junior doctors and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt have since been locked in fierce disagreement over his plans to enforce new contracts as part of his plans to launch a '7 Day NHS', with operations and procedures normally saved for the usual working week to also be conducted at weekends. 

He thinks it's a brill idea while they think it's shit and completely unfair, especially seeing as the NHS already does operate 7 days a week which they're all very much involved with outside of normal working hours.

Why are they so angry?

Rather than finding more funds and time to train and hire more doctors to achieve the government's aim, a new contract has been devised for junior doctors to work under. The proposals include reducing higher rates of pay received for working evenings and weekends, and changes in working patterns. 

The government claims that "No junior doctor working within the current limits will receive a pay cut compared to their current contract." The doctors COMPLETELY dispute this. Furthermore, this is all being imposed on the junior doctors and they will have no choice in the changes.  

Pay cuts

The proposed contracts would increase doctors' base pay for standard hours (currently 7am-7pm Monday-Friday), which sounds great. However, the same contracts also decrease the rate doctors are paid for working anti-social hours like night shifts and weekends – an overall pay cut that the doctors reckon could actually be as much as 30%.

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But it's not just a money issue

As well as altering pay rates, the new contracts would also reclassify 'social' working hours to 7am-10pm Monday-Saturday, meaning doctors would be expected to sacrifice more evenings and weekends (and y'know, a social life in general), without being paid the anti-social bonus money they currently get.

There's also a risk that many doctors will actually leave the profession altogether. In a recent survey, 70% of junior doctors said they would leave if the new contracts are imposed, making the collapse of the NHS a real possibility.

Dangerous working hours

Another HUGE argument from junior doctors is that their new hours are literally unsafe to work. They claim that the proposal removes safeguards to stop them working too much or having too little sleep in between shifts. 

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And it doesn't take a genius to realise that exhausted, stressed and overworked doctors losing control of when they work aren't exactly effective, reliable doctors. Their wellbeing is SUPER important, but to a lot of people, this all just seems like one big cost-cutting move. 

So there we go. Pretty serious stuff and kind of mind-blowing when you read through it all. Let us know what you think about it all with a tweet to @Sugarscape.


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